Deployment Miracles

While my sanity teetered too close to the edge of landing myself in a padded room, my saving grace were two strangers. It’s wondrous how many tiny choices had to lead them straight to me, it’s almost like they were sent …  


Snow had begun to frost the tips of the branches and blanket the ground in Virginia Beach. A whopping 630 miles away from the comfort of home and family. It had only been six months since I said goodbye to my husband aboard the Dwight D. Eisenhower in his shop with 10 sets of looming eyes, all sailors who had partook in the same sad ritual with their own loved ones. It would be nine and a half months before I would feel Matt’s embrace and somehow, managed to hold it together in front of his peers. It would be the second deployment we both lived through in our own ways, this one for me would be ineradicable.

Peppermint, hot coca and gingerbread danced through November’s crip air. Thanksgiving had passed for another year and was instantly replaced by the general public a-buzz with holiday cheer. As I’d hand out Country Fried Steak and Chicken Dumplings, rosy red cheeked kids proudly announced Santa was coming! “He’s gunna bring me a ….” Their excitement brought on waves of nausea. Matt wouldn’t be home this year and because of work, traveling to see family was out of the question. Plus, I felt an awful lot like Scrooge, without a doubt good ol’ St. Nick would pass over his stop at my house.

During those six months everything and anything that could break or go missing, did. I got locked out of my house three times, spent $300 to re-chip a new set of car keys and spent numerous hours wasting time at an auto-shop waiting for my car to be fixed—dead battery a couple times, power steering pump, new tires.

The air conditioner shorted out during the summer more than a few times and when the seasons changed to winter, the heater broke. For two days and nights I wore Matt’s heavy coat to fight off winer’s frosty bite. And on top of all that, it wasn’t irregular to come home to something chewed to pieces. My wonderful husband had thought a new puppy made for the best pre-deployment gift …

This series of unfortunate events was expected with seasoned military wives. A military addendum to Newton’s law. A whole year could pass while your husband was home with no incidents. The moment he left all bets were off.

In between fixing the garbage disposal and working shifts as a waitress, time passed with new hobbies and self-made busy work. A Pinterest DIY master (and failure), baked good goddess extrondaire and the conquerer of eating holiday, birthday and anniversary meals alone, made up my deployment resume.

Wasted time was of no concern because there was nothing else to do or anyone waiting for me to do something. I stopped keeping track of it, merely going through the days and weeks based off shifts at the restaurant. If I was working a double, it was probably the weekend. If it felt like Hell, it was defiantly a Sunday.

Friends from home asked all the wrong questions while complaining they hadn’t see their boo in two days and coworkers thought it was appropriate to inquire about Matt’s faithfulness. Eventually phone calls ceased, old friendships felt foreign and the only form of communication I could tolerate was with Matt through email. The obsessive need to refresh my inbox was maddening. Loneliness felt permanent and the silence at home was deafening.

Not to mention the guilt ate me alive. Matt was the one suffering leagues away without the comfort of his own bed.

When did I become such a wuss?

____

It was the first week of December when I was pulling a closer at the restaurant. An hour left before the doors were locked for the night, a couple wandered in looking for a late dinner. The two would easily fade into a sea of people, nothing striking would draw attention to their features. A typical couple, tall man with thick black frames and a shorter woman who knew her way around a curling iron.

I brought out their food and sequentially asked them if they needed anything else.

“My wife and I are about to pray. Is there anything we can add to the list, for you?”

After almost a decade in the service industry this wasn’t the first time I had been asked. Typically I’d give a smile and say “no thanks.” Religion made me uncomfortable because I wasn’t scriptural nor brought up in church. Wouldn’t God know I wasn’t a regular on Sundays, so what business would I have asking for prayers?

“Actually,” I squeaked out, “please.”

“Can you ask for my husband to come home? I think I’m at my breaking point,” I said with an apprehensive laugh, my attempt to fight off brimming tears and embarrass myself.

The strangers extended out their hands and I grabbed ahold of them and bowed my head, no internal inhibitions talking me out of it.

_____

A week had passed since my intimate moment with the devout couple. The memory had all ready began to fade, and I was back at work serving a 4-top when my phone buzzed deep inside my apron pocket.An abnormally long number with symbols caused an abrupt sprint from my table to the back of the restaurant.

“Matt!?” I shrilled.

“Hey babe, can you talk or are you at work?”

“No, no, I can talk, I can talk. What’s up? Are you okay? I miss you!” I said in one breath.

“Miss you too, but I have some news and I wanted to be the first one to tell you.” He said with a long pause. “Have you heard any of the rumors?”

Another pause and I held my breath, afraid if I sucked in any more air this moment would deflate.

“We’re coming home in two weeks. There’s a problem with the flight deck and it needs to be repaired.”

In the same moment my manager came out of the break room, eyeing me, “Shannon get off your …”

“MATT’S COMING HOME! HE’S COMING HOME!” I screamed jumping up and down.

_____

Christmas would come that year after all and it was wrapped with the answered prayers from a faceless, nameless couple. Chalk it up to coincidence if you must, it might’ve happened regardless. I mulled over the chance phenomena until it was left semi-tasteless and decided some of the best things in life are better left unsaid.

Sex Trafficking In Our Backyard

I wrote this blog for work back in July after attending Orangewood Foundation’s Sex Trafficking Forum. The contents of that education still haunt me and I don’t want its lesson to be lost over time. It’s not old news because we haven’t found the solution.

We live in an imperfect world and bad people will always find a way to inflict harm on their victims, but this doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. We fight.

Please take the time to read the forum recap below and listen to Oree’s story. She led the forum discussion that night and I couldn’t begin to describe the amount of strength this woman holds. Orangewood Foundation asks to please help spread awareness to help end the growing pandemic of sex slavery, we can all do our part. 


Last night the Marconi Staff attended Orangewood Foundation’s Forum on sex trafficking in Orange County. The moving dialog from a survivor stirred up a fiery determination to do more in each staff member’s stomach.

The Marconi Foundation for Kids did recently donate $3,000 to the Orangewood Foundation, but it’s not nearly enough and there’s plenty of work to be done; we want to do more! The number one goal Orangewood has in regards to its sex trafficking program is to bring more awareness to this sensitive issue.

With the need for awareness on the brain, here is a recap of what was learned and spoken about on Monday night’s gathering.

Disclaimer: This post will use potentially alarming vocabulary to promote awareness about sex trafficking. Viewer discretion is advised.

Sex Trafficking Statistics:

  1. 100,000 – 300,000 American children are victims of sex trafficking per year.
  2. 1 out of every 3 runaway girls in the U.S. is approached by a pimp within 48 hours of running away.
  3. Almost 400 victims of sex trafficking in Orange County have been identified in the past 10 years and almost half of them were children.
  4. In the past two years 1,277 victims have been identified in California.
  5. 50-80% of sex trafficking victims in California are or once were in the foster care system.
  6. There were 145 victims in Orange County in 2014.

Q:What is sex trafficking?

A: The use of violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. Also known as: sex slavery, human trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). 

Terminology:

  • “In the life”: involved in sex trafficking
  • “John/Trick”: child molester; the buyer
  • “Bottom bitch”: the pimp’s head girl
  • “Wifey”: the girls who work with you and your pimp

Q: Who are these girls?

A: These girls are the regular “run-of-the-mill” children. It can happen to anyone.

Victims are predominately young females who are insecure, questioning their self-esteem or looking for a way out of an abusive family.

Listen to Sex Trafficking Advocate and Survivor, Oree Freeman, tell her story in the video below.

In addition to Oree telling the forum’s crowd her story, she shared numerous survivor stories, or in her terms, her “survivor sisters” stories.

“My survivor sister grew up in South County and like most young girls in Southern California, dreamed of becoming a model and walking the runways for the fashion world’s most elite. But, early on her dreams were crushed when she didn’t have the support from her parents. Determined to make it in the industry, she got in contact with a reputable agent who continually booked her in successful events that advanced her career. 

Until one day, the gigs stopped and she had no money to support herself and didn’t want to ask her parents for help after they had previously voiced disapproval regarding her career choice. The agent became her pimp, even though he spent time furthering her career, turning her over was always his end goal.”

Kinds of pimps:

This kind of pimp (in above story)  is considered a CEO Pimp; the character who has all the opportunity to give out and uses it to lure in  victims.

A Romeo Pimp will wine and dine you for however long it takes until sold into the ring.

Women pimps are referred to as Madams and have usually been former workers “in the life.”

Recruiting Spots:

Any area where a large group of children frequent, i.e: bus stops, malls, skating rinks, group homes and the Internet.

Oree told the crowd she once walked into a skating rink during the afternoon and saw her ex-pimp and “bottom bitch” scouting out the mobs of kids, looking for the weakest link.

Girls’ Expectations:

One pimp’s formula his women must make:

  • $600 to eat
  • $800 to sleep
  • Didn’t collect the money from the John, punishment was sleeping with the next man without a condom.

This math equates a need to make $208,000 a year and work 16 times a day for 5 days to achieve it. This means one woman experiences 4,160 rapes a year to be able to eat and sleep. 

Other facts to keep in mind:

  • Orange County is a number one destination location for sex trafficking because of its high prospect to make money.
  • Sex trafficking is almost as lucrative as drug hustling because gangs are becoming more interested in selling kids than selling drugs, it’s “safer.”
  • Recent reports have shown pimps come from violent upbringings and/or have experienced sexual assault while growing up.
  • Sex trafficking victims often get mislabeled as prostitutes.

The Good News:

  • The Orangewood Foundation has been working for nearly 35 years to care for abused and at-risk youth. The foundation has numerous programs to aid children in need.
  • First responders are being taught how to recognize a sex trafficking victim and what questions to ask.
  • The creation of a new program called The Lighthouse Program, by the Orangewood Foundation.

The Lighthouse Program is transitional housing for young women who have left “the life.” It’s a house with 24/7 care for women aged 18-21 (minors are generally placed in foster care) that will help a survivor recuperate and plan for their future, and stay as long as needed to become successful.

This program will work in tandem with other Orangewood programs which offer help with basic needs, independent living skills, employment and education.

As the first kind of home/program in the Orange County and L.A. area, the foundation needs our support. Below is a list detailing how YOU can support The Lighthouse.

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If you are interested in attending a forum, the meetings happen every second Monday of every month from 6:30-8:00pm. Plan to be a part of the discussion on August 8th and September 12th at 1575 E. 17th St., Santa Ana.

Awareness is the first step in stopping the problem.

Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference 2015

This was my why not me moment.

Somewhere in March I received an email asking how much my words were worth. Intrigued, I actually read one of the zillions of emails sent by the university, daily. It was informing students about a nonfiction conference in Grapevine, Texas. You could submit work and if selected, attend workshops with editors, authors and professionals in the literary world.

These selections would also be in the running for cash prizes. As a broke, almost graduated, ever-since-I-was-young-wannabe-writer and student, I submitted a personal essay, why not me. And I was chosen for selection! I was floored, I finally threw out my insecurities and dove in head first and it paid off!

The conference was this past weekend. I don’t think I have the words to craft a proper gauge on how I felt. You know when Hagrid tells Harry, ur a wizard -arry, and Harry begins to understand he won’t have to spend all his time with the Dursleys? Or, when Harry rides his broom for the first time and finds out his father was also a decorated seeker? Or … well I could keep the Harry Potter metaphors going all night … you get it.

The conference was more than just a learning experience. I felt like a grew as a person who loves words and reading/writing stories. Here are a few of the speakers from the lectures I enjoyed the most:

1. Anne Fadiman speaking about her book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall DownHer keynote speech left me feeling full. She emerged herself into a unfamiliar world of Hmong refugees struggling with new life in California. “I believe in accidents, without them I never would’ve wrote my book.”

Happy accidents, this resonated with me. I need to embrace all the humps because those are what put me in the right places at the right time, like this literary conference. 

2.  Dan Barry and Kassie Bracken speaking about merging the two worlds of journalists and photographers. The importance of collaborating with professionals to tell a compelling story.

“Writing about people of poverty like victims is a mistake. It’s not fair to them as an individual.”

I think it’s easy to feel sorrow for those who aren’t as well off as an “average” human being. But it’s not just about their monthly income, it’s about the story and how people of poverty survive. 

3. The panel discussion with Caleb Hannan, S.I. Rosenbaum and Hanna Rosin. Hannan wrote an article about “Dr. V” and her magic putter. The outcome was tragic as the subject committed suicide during the interviews. His candid testimony led us to believe if you feel like something bad is going to happen, then you need to have an open discussion with your editor and vise-versa.

I personally believed he had balls to talks openly and honest about his mis-steps and answering the questions from his panel-mates. You can read the article here, and the letter from the editor here. And Rosenbaum’s after the fact article here.

4. George Getschow’s lecture about the importance of place in a narrative. “I’m always surprised to read an article that misses the importance of place.” Place is like a secondary character and it needs to be just as important as character development. These are the dimensions of place, as explained by Mr. Getschow:

  1. The History- Research it and find out what makes your place tick.
  2. Economy- How does the place survive. Is it an oil, ranching or low income?
  3. What do people wear? What do they eat? How do they communicate?
  4. Weather- It influences peoples mood for the day and how they dress. Using weather can reveal character.
  5. Gestures- How do people greet each other?
  6. Superstitions- paying attention to local legends or tales?
  7. Sights & Sounds

As I sat in a dimly lit lush ballroom with desserts on top of clean white soft linens, tempting guests to eat their cake before dinner, the winners for the top personal essays and reported narratives were announced. The top three in each category were awarded cash prizes, and the top ten would be published in the literary journal Ten Spurs.

There’s no better way to say this then, I WON! My name is called after the 8-minute mark in the video below and I get on stage after the 9-minute mark. A professor of mine called my name as I walked by to get on stage and I tackled her into a hug. “I didn’t know you submitted a piece! I’m so proud of you!”

There is no better feeling than hitting a home run. Now that I know how it feels I want to do it again, over and over again as many times possible. This was the perfect way to kick me off into the professional world and end my stay with the University of North Texas, Mayborn School of Journalism.

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It’s a cliche to say, “follow your dreams,” but it’s true. Many times I was red-inked, felt like a poor writer and told I’d never make any money as an author. My personal dialogue said the same thing. I finally told the voices the shut-it and jumped off the high dive.

It was a rough road. I felt exposed and unsure if I propelled my story with the correct words. I cried reliving certain slices of my life. In the end it all happened the way it was supposed to, why not me. 

This conference also added readings to my already to tall stack of books. This list is more for me so I won’t forget, but If you’re looking for something new to read, all the better!